Chocolate Maker's Journal
The "Swiss Farm" Part 1: The Tasting Lab
Posted on 4/13/2009 by John Scharffenberger
I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic with Ray Major, one of our Chocolate Makers. While there, we visited one of my favorite places, Finca Elvesia, managed by Jo Locandro, a friend I met at the Chocolate Show in NYC several years ago, the farm was converted to cacao in the early part of the 20th century by a family that had emigrated from Switzerland. To this day, it is known as the Swiss Farm. Its name, Evesia, is actually a slightly garbled local knickname for Switzerland.
One of the most noteworthy things about Jo's farm is the incredible variety of cacao. It is like a mini-tasting laboratory. As you may know, there are three main types of Theobroma cacao — forastero, triniatrio and criollo. However, within each type there are hundreds of different varieties due to cross-breeding, mutation, etc. Jo's farm seems to have it all.
Walking through the farm, you can see grounded green Amelonado, warty red Trinitario, and purple long Criollo. On a recent trip, we took beans out of many of the pods and cut them in half. Some were a loud dark purple, some were a light rose color and some were a buff color. Tasting them was also across the board. Ranging from harsh and fruity, to bitter, to mild and pleasant, we could only wonder at the kind of flavors they would give our chocolate.
We also came upon another species of cacao with huge pods that grow more like a normal tree with flowers and fruit in the upper branches. Called Theobroma bicolor, it is completely different from the cacao used for chocolate. Also called pataxte in Spanish, the beans are light in color, have almost no bitterness and are fairly bland in flavors.
Mayan people add this to Theobroma cacao to soften its flavors in their drinks and raise the level of the bromine, the mild stimulant found in chocolate. It is a species more associated with the forest and wild lands, which why it's called the Jaguar Tree in several indigenous dialects of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The Jaguar is also associated as the guide for humans as they enter the afterworld, so this bean is added in many ritual ceremonies in Guatemala.
My colleague at SCHARFFEN BERGER, Ray Major, has spoken many times of trying to use some of this type of cacao in a chocolate at some point. I think that it might be a great project.
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